JW3 is warm­ing to the Yid­dish Queen Lear

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

IT’S SUN­DAY night at JW3 on Finch­ley Road. On the makeshift beach in the pi­azza, foot­ball fans sit with caipir­in­has in hand and eyes locked on the gi­ant screen show­ing the World Cup Fi­nal. But in­side the build­ing’s 250seat theatre, events in Brazil are far from the minds of 40 people in cos­tume as they launch into a noisy im­promptu hora.

“I don’t re­call say­ing ac­tion,” shouts ac­tress and di­rec­tor Deb­bie Chazen from the wings. “Did Steven Spiel­berg just turn up? I don’t think so.”

Chazen be­gan her stint as artis­tic di­rec­tor of JW3’s am-dram Spiel­ers troupe six months ago, when she di­rected a cast of 10 in The Melt­ing Pot. She has now upped the ante four­fold, with more than 40 in the re­vival of the 1898 Yid­dish play, Mirele Efros.

Tonight is tech re­hearsal, ahead of the show’s fournight run next week, and Chazen and co-di­rec­tor Adam Len­son are fine-tun­ing the move­ments, lines and cos­tumes of the large cast.

With four ac­tors for ev­ery role — the cast changes for each of the four acts — it’s a huge un­der­tak­ing. Par­tic­u­larly for a show tagged the “Jewish Queen Lear”.

“We have a lot of people to mo­bilise but it re­ally is a com­mu­nity on stage,” says Len­son, whom Chazen­met last year while per­form­ing in the West End. “Eve- ry cast needs dif­fer­ent types. We cer­tainly have that.”

The spread of am­a­teur thes­pi­ans in­cludes lawyers, doc­tors, teach­ers and stu­dents, with per­form­ers rang­ing in age from 10 to 68. Some are keen drama­tists, oth­ers stage-fright­ened first-timers. A few are would-be ac­tors who never quite made it their day job.

For 67-year-old op­tometrist Iso­bel Roth­bart, the show is a chance to in­dulge a life-long am­bi­tion: “I love per­form­ing — it makes me feel alive,” she says. Property con- sul­tant Janet Lip­ton, 51, agrees: “I acted in the Berke­ley Play­ers at West Lon­don Syn­a­gogue 20 years ago, but it was hard per­form­ing when I had young chil­dren. This of­fers an amaz­ing op­por­tu­nity to re­live those am­dram days and this time my son Daniel is also in the show.”

Act­ing dy­nas­ties are com­mon — as ex­em­pli­fied by the Sim­ble fam­ily. When Daliah and Andrew Sim­ble brought their 14-yearold daugh­ter Ariel to au­di­tion, they did not ex­pect it would lead to their own star­ring roles. But thanks to Chazen’s pow­ers of per­sua­sion, the cou­ple found them­selves read­ing for parts and now share the stage with Ariel and 10-year-old son Oliver.

“It’s taken us to­tally out of our com­fort zones,” Andrew Sim­ble says. “I do pre­sen­ta­tions for my job in dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing and I of­ten get ner­vous. This is help­ing me build up my con­fi­dence. We run through lines at home.”

The JW3 pro­duc­tion is a mod­ernised ren­di­tion of Mirele Efros, the tale of a dom­i­neer­ing ma­tri­arch who be­comes es­tranged from her fam­ily. Yid­dish is trans­lated into English, and there are “gaudy” char­ac­ters who stand out with their The Only

Way is Es­sex im­pres­sions. But the orig­i­nal themes of

fam­ily broiges and wed­ding dra­mas still res­onate.

“It’s a ter­rific idea to do a Yid­dish play,” says re­tired lawyer Terry Sopel. The 64-year-old, who plays a rabbi, is fi­nally sat­is­fy­ing a pas­sion dat­ing back to the time of his bar­mitz­vah. “I just don’t think these plays would be per­formed other­wise.” JW3, it is agreed, has opened doors for Jewish per­for­mance. “I cer­tainly hope it will be the cen­tre of Jewish theatre in the fu­ture, be­cause there are so few other op­por­tu­ni­ties in shul,” re­flects 68-year-old Howard Younger-wood. The im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cer says he is tak­ing part as “a nice lit­tle chal­lenge be­fore I go com­pletely ga-ga”, hav­ing last per­formed in a play 46 years ago.

“The JC said I was ‘nicely ir­ri­tat­ing’,” he re­calls. “My wife said she agreed with the ad­jec­tive, but that I should work on the ad­verb.”

With days un­til the cur­tain rises, an­tic­i­pa­tion is pal­pa­ble. But Chazen is look­ing ahead. “Maybe I’ll cast 100 people next time,” she sug­gests. “Start think­ing of plays we could do.” Mirele Efros will be per­formed at JW3 from July 20-23 at 7.30pm. 020 7433 8988

Cast mem­bers and ( be­low) a re­hearsal scene

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